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VOL. 39 | NO. 50 | Friday, December 11, 2015

Judge praises Durham for 'moral courage'

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NASHVILLE (AP) - While many GOP leaders in the Tennessee Legislature have distanced themselves from state Rep. Jeremy Durham for writing a character reference letter on behalf of a former youth minister who pleaded guilty to child porn possession, a judge in the Franklin Republican's home county is praising what he calls the lawmaker's "moral courage."

The Tennessean reports (http://tnne.ws/1QodYYQ) that Circuit Court Judge Michael W. Binkley in a Facebook post also criticized Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey as being "dumb as a rock" for saying that the letter had shown poor judgment.

"As far as Mr. Brilliant criticizing Jeremy who had the moral courage to help a friend in a difficult time in his life, all I can say is I admire a man with guts," Binkley wrote. "Not many of those kind of men around any more."

A Ramsey spokesman said the lawmaker stands by his statements.

Durham and Binkley did not respond to the newspaper's requests for comment. The Facebook post had been deleted by Tuesday afternoon.

Binkley and his wife each gave Durham's campaign $1,400 in 2012.

Durham over the weekend became the target of anonymous robocalls demanding his resignation. The calls followed the public release last week of investigative documents released to the public last week revealed that prosecutors had sought charges against Durham on allegations that he changed the dates on two prescriptions. A grand jury declined to indict the lawmaker in January.

Three months later, Durham wrote to urge a federal judge to consider child porn defendant Joseph Todd Neill's entire life, and not just the "ill-conceived act" he had pleaded guilty to.

The images had been found on Neill's phone in an investigation into a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old congregant at North Fork Baptist Church in Shelbyville.

Neill was sentenced to more than three years in the federal child porn case, and late r pleaded guilty in state court to statutory rape by an authority figure.

Durham said last week that his letter "in no way condoned his illegal actions and clearly stated that he deserved to be punished for those acts. I simply stated facts regarding his prior life serving others as a Christian missionary."

House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga said in a statement Sunday that he was also worried about the letter vouching for Neill's character.

"I'm very concerned with Representative Durham's decision to use his official position to advocate for a convicted sex offender," McCormick said.

Judge Binkley in his Facebook post also alluded to another grand jury investigation, though it was unclear what he was referring to.

"You need to investigate the other side and then hear explanations from the 2 sides," he wrote. "That's what 2 separate Grand Jury investigations did in 2 totally different settings, YEARS APART and BOTH Grand Jury's found NO PROBABLE CAUSE to believe a crime occurred at all."

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